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tv   Charlie Rose  PBS  December 16, 2009 12:30pm-1:30pm EST

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>> rose: welcome to the broadcast. we begin this evening with an update on health care reform and ezra klein of the "washington post". >> this is going to simultaneously be the largest step forward in social policy since the great society. and a sharp reminder of how little our system can do about problems we all admit that we have. this will be an enormous achievement for president obama and the democratic congress. but much of it will come because they recognized the limits of the process in which they operate. >> rose: we continue with katti martin her story of her parents coming from hungary to the united states is called "enemies of the people." the core of the book are these file which is contained many shattering revelations during 20 years of near total surveillance of my parents as well as their brutal treatment in prison. what i discovered along the way was very painful personally but
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i think that as we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism it's important not only to hear the historians' perspective but to actually hear how people lived during a half a century. millions of people, it wasn't just my family that lived under this awful regime. this is the human story from the ground up. >> rose: another story of immigration this evening from steve roberts. the book is called "from every end of this earth." >> when you think about obama's stories and so many other immigrant stories, it's the most tenacious, the most resilient, the most ambitious who can imagine a life outside their country and have the strength and courage to make it here. so it's a self-selected process. someone called it the american mir i agree. >> rose: a program note, ken ouillette a was scheduled this
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evening, his book called "google the story of the google company and its founders is getting a lot of attention. part two of that conversation will be seen at another date so we can bring you an update on health care reform and two stories of immigration. one from katti marton and the other from steve roberts. next. if you've had a coke in the last 20 years, ( screams ) you've had a hand in giving college scholarships... and support to thousands of our nation's... most promising students. ♪ ( coca-cola 5-note mnemonic )
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captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: we begin tonight with the intense debate in washington over health care reform, days after predicting a reform bill would pass the senate by christmas, president obama summoned senate democrats to the white house. the president urges senators to reach a compromise to achieve the party's top domestic priority. >> now, let's be clear, the final bill won't include everything that everybody wants. no bill can do that. but what i told my former colleagues today is that we simply cannot allow differences over individual elements of this plan to prevent us from meeting our responsibility to solve a
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long-standing and urgent problem for the american people. they are waiting for us to act. they are counting on us to show leadership. and i don't intend to let them down and neither do the people standing next to me. >> rose: much of washington was also focused on independent senator joe lieberman of connecticut. his vote is essential if no republicans support this bill. lieberman had voiced duts about the democratic proposal but today he said recent concessions have made a difference. >> if as appears to be happening the so-called public option government-run insurance program is out and the medicare buy in which i thought would jeopardize medicare cost taxpayers billions of dollars over the long haul, increase our deficit is out and there's no other attempts to bring things like that in then i'm going to be in a position
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where i can stay... i'm getting toward that position where i can say what i wanted to say saul along: that i'm ready to vote for health care reform. >> rose: joining me now from washington, ezra klein, he reports and blogs on health care issues for the "washington post." i am pleased to have him back on this program. welcome. >> thank you for having me. >> rose: tell me where we are in this sort of legislative process we're moving forward day by day week by week. what happened last night was very big. they made a massive concession to joe lieberman to get the... what looks to be their 60th vote. and i want to make one point on this which is the big story, right, is that joe lieberman didn't want to compromise. but the other side of that story-- and i think the one that makes me think that health care will get done sds that 55 democrats or, many of whom wanted a public option terribly, chuck schumer and senator sherrod brown, they were willing to compromise. they gave lieberman everything he wanted for his vote. so there's a real flexibility right now to get this bill done.
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>> rose: and what is the thought process in their minds that enabled them to reach that conclusion? >> that fundamentally as important as the medicare buy-in and the public option were and the things senator lieberman said a moment ago about the medicare buy in were not, frankly, true, but fundamentally they're not the important parts of this bill. they just aren't. what is important about this bill is that beneath it is $900 billion over ten years that we expect will ensure 35 million or so people. and that will save thousands of lives, keep people from medical bankruptcy, from becoming infirm or in chronic pain. it will do an enormous amount of good and for the very first time in this country create a universal structure. upon that you can improve. you can build. you can add a public option later if you have the votes for it. but what you can't do if you lose this, it is not easy to get that $900 billion back. so you take the first step now and you take the next one later. >> rose: it also has political repercussions for those democrats, too, because they believe that unless they have
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health care reform it will look like a failure and therefore hurt them when they go to the voters again. >> of course. and i think they're probably right about that. they remember this from 1994 when gingrich and dole killed the reform plan on the advice of many, many republican strategists and then destroyed them in the following election. the american people do not reward failure. >> rose: what were you saying about lieberman, the point he made is not true? what points are not true? >> so senator lieberman said three things there about the medicare option, and this is why democrats are so upset at him. he moved... and in the senate, this is quite rude. he moved before the congressional budget office rendered its verdict on medicare buy-in. and many people believe the reason he did that is that the measures he put out, that he mentioned there, were going to be disproven. the congressional budget office has looked at medicare buy in before, they say it lengthen it is life expectancy of medicare because it brings in healthier people who aren't as costly to the system. it would have had no affect on the deficit because the subsidies cost money, not where people go with the subsidies. i mean, there was a real sense
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in congress-- and i spoke to many moderate offices about this not liberal ones here-- that he just sort of decided that there was not going to be any give in his position. and that, again, is sort of why i point out that... and that these senators who did want give and did feel that he was not being... acting in good faith here, that they compromised because at this point the overriding imperative for them is to get this bill done and not to win the fight. >> rose: are there republicans that might come with the democrats? >> you know, there's still talk about senator snowe and senator collins. i occasionally hear mention of senator voinovich from ohio who's retiring this year. is but the reason they had to go to lieberman was basically that senator snowe said that if you want my vote you will have to slow this down. that we're moving too quickly. democrats who want to get this out of the senate by christmas because they want to move it back through the house and get everything done by the state of the union, they basically realized or decided that putting this on for more time was not going to be a friend-to-passing
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the bill. that uncertainty was not the friend of reformment these things don't tend to get voted down, they bleed out, they get delayed. so lieberman at the very least, you knew how to placate him. you knew how to move him on to the bill and quickly, which is why they did it and so very quickly. it was one day and this changed. >> rose: but are there... where would those democrats who are willing to bite the bullet on public option, are there certain issues that they will say no, i'm not going there for the sake of compromise and for the sake of health care reform in 2009 or 2010? >> affordability. so what you have in health care reform are three stools, three legs of a stool that interact very quickly. and one is subsidies, right? the $900 billion. the money we give to people below a certain level of income to help them buy the plan. the other is the individual mandate. and this is very important. the individual mandate says pretty much everybody except people who really can't afford it has to do with a percentage of income, they have to buy in and if they don't they face a
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penalty. now, the subsidies aren't enough and the insurance regulations aren't enough to make coverage affordable for people, you can't have them mandate, because it's penalizing people for something they can't do. if subsidies drop really at all at this point-- we're probably too low as it is-- i think president obama's level of $900 billion was too low for this bill. if that dropped, then you would see people fleeing the bill, not just because they think the bill is becoming bad but because it's becoming a political liability. the individual mandate, if it ends up applying to a bill that's not affordable, it's going to be extremely unpopular. >> rose: when you look at the cost of this, where do you think the real number is? >> so, there are two ways to answer that, right? the real number is somewhere around $900 billion. but one thing we forget in washington, i think it's a remnant of the era of surpluses and deficit spend, is that government, like you or me, can buy something and not pay for it on a credit card, right? that sometimes you go out for dinner and you don't put it on
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the credit card, you actually pay for it. and so the cost, the price tag, may be $900 billion. but just as some investments return money over time, i believe this one will, too. what we have from the congressional budget office right now, the sort of best estimates we can go on, is that this bill will save money and the reason it saves money is that it raises more revenue and achieves more savings in medicare and medicaid and other elements of the health care system than it costs. now, some people are skeptical how those will manifest and you could see some changes on the margins. but the basic arithmetic of the bill is pretty sound and generally speaking congress does follow through on what it says it's going to do. a couple people looked into this and tracked old medicare saving efforts and mainly they've worked. so we should see a slight reduction in the deficit in the first ten years and a slightly larger one in the second ten years. health care is not going to be a huge cost control device, at least at this point as it is currently written. but it will not cost taxpayers anything more in terms of borrowing.
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>> rose: where is the discussion on medicare in terms of what will happen to medicare? because i read a piece in politico that jim webb, the democratic senator from virginia was concerned about medicare because there were a lot of people in the constituency who were on medicare and worried about costs. >> there was a lot of... there's obviously some concern about medicare and some efforts to gin up concern about medicare. what we're looking at is about a 6% cut for the program. we have implemented larger cuts than that many, many times in the past. and most of it is not happening through straight cuts but reforms. so a big chunk of the money comes from what's called the medicare advantage program. and these are private insurance programs that came into medicare years ago. and the idea is we would pay them the same amount we pay medicare, but they're private. they would be more efficient. and they weren't. and they cost more, about 114% of what we pay medicare. so we're ratcheting those payments back and we're paying somewhat less to hospitals. i don't expect-- and i don't
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think most experts expects that we will see changes in medicare that most beneficiaries will be able to notice. if we do, you know, i imagine congress will hear about that and look at other things. the other piece of this, though, is this medicare commission which, you know, senator jay rockefeller is attempting to strengthen and the administration supports. and what this commission does is basically create a procedure for fast tracking reforms for medicare to help in the long term control costs, save money, that sort of thing. that could have a big affect, but we don't know what the affect will be. but one way or another we should just say that medicare as it is now, like other parts of the system, is unsustainable. if you let it go as it is, it will go not only bankrupt but take down the government it with. so at some point we are going to have to figure out how to save money there. and we're not doing as much of in the this bill as we will need to do. but maybe we're making a start and putting in place some procedures to help us do hit in the future. >> rose: do most people whatever the numbers and whatever the data says believe that medicare
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works? >> i believe that most people who are on it believe medicare works. does medicare work in sort of an abstract policy wonk way? yes and no. it's extremely efficient at providing insurance to seniors and it gives them generally speaking a very good experience. it, like the private market, is not a very efficient health care system, in particular the way it pays doctors, right? we pay doctors the way we pay salesmen at best buy. we say if you sell us more stuff we give you more money. that's good for a salesman at best buy, but maybe we don't want doctors to have the incentive to do more treatment, more surgery. so that is one of the places people like to see that change. and one thing you should say about this bill and there's a wonderful piece in the "new yorker" a week ago on this exact subject, this bill tries everything everybody can think of to save money in medicare. there are... most of the bills when you hear 2,074 pages, most are these pilot programs in medicare and they're pilot
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programs about cnging the payment structure, about bringing more evidence to bear, about penalizing hospitals that have high postoperative infection rates. they're honestly putting in a small version of everything pretty much anybody has thought of here. so they are trying. the question of whether these programs work and how well they get moved up to scale is an open one for now. but there's simply no doubt that this bill-- insufficient as it may be-- isn't the single largest cost control effort we have ever made in the health care system. nothing we have done is even close. >> rose: what will happen if there is a bill that makes its way through senate and they get it on the floor and they get 60 votes and there is no filibuster and the senate passes it and it then goes to conference? what happens then? >> it's very hard to say. i'm actually hearing more and more, and particularly today, that the house is going to bite the bullet and pass something very, very close, if not exactly to the senate bill.
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so when we talked about conference, we're talking about a procedure in which the senate... negotiators from the senate and house meet to hammer out a bill. but there's actually another way to do it, too, that's called ping-ponging. basically in this way the house simply passes the senate bill unchanged and then it doesn't even go back to the senate. it goes directly to the president. i think there's a lot mortar discussion now among members in the house that the compromise is so delicate and there's such an undeniable willingness on the part of senators like lieberman, wilson, snowe and others to fill buster that the house can't do what it would like to do and change this bill substantially. that it's too fragile. if that's the case, the house is much more afraid than senate because they're all facing the voters. so they may opt to do this quickly, get it done this year
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or very, very early next year and get it to the president so come the state of the union democrats have a major accomplishment. and this is important to them. can pivot hard to jobs and the economy and far matter deficit. but the they let it drag out, if conference drags on, they're sitting there with this giant bill, bad press coverage for a lot longer and their message gets steppeded on. >> rose: if it is accomplished, what do we say about it? that this president after so many others failed did it right and got health care reform? >> we say, i think, two things. this is going to simultaneously be the largest step forward in social policy since the great society and a sharp reminder of how little our system can do about problems we all admit that we have. this will be an enormous achievement for president obama and the democratic congress. but much of it will come because they recognized the limits of the process in which they
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operate. we talk about how big this bill is, it changes a fifth of the economy. it doesn't. this bill will not affect the vast majority of americans. it will affect the insurance status of about 35 million people. we will not solve the cost problem that we know we have. we will not cover all of the uninsured even though we know we could and can afford it. we will not do all we need to do. we will make a start of it. but this bill is less ambitious than what clinton did, than what nixon proposed, than what truman wanted, then what f.d.r. contemplated adding into the social security act. this bill is a both quite an achievement but a recognition of our limits. and at some point we are not going to be able to content ourselves with having picked the low-hanging fruit. we are going to have to sit down and make hard decisions and hard choices on cost and there won't be the spur and the shining goal of covering the uninsured. there will be a lot less. and we're still going to have to do it. so this bill, it's a good first step, it will make the next one
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easier, but the next one is going to be the harder one and i don't think anybody looking at this process should be very confident that we will be able to take it. >> rose: what's the next one? >> in a very hard way, cost control. not just starting the procedures and the pilot programs, but telling doctors and hospitals and device manufacturers and pharma "you are going to make less money next year than you made this year." or "you are going to make a lot less money in ten years than you expect to be making now." that's going to be very hard. >> rose: i mean, tom friedman makes the argument in conversations that finding out... i think this is exactly what you just said in another way. we're finding out that the system we have, the political system, does not produce the best option, the most attractive means of dealing with public problems. can you go to that point or are you somewhere less than that? >> absolutely. no. i would... i would indeed go further. the law professor lawrence lessig has a line he uses about
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congressional corruption, and i would apply it to this-- although i'm not talking about corruption. imagine an alcoholic, he says. that alcoholic could be losing his family, he could be deep in debt, he could have cirrhosis of the liver. and you might look at him and say that his worst problem is not that he has three or four drinks before he goes to bed at night. but it is the first problem. it's the one you're going to have to solve before you can solve all the others. and i have come to believe in this process that our first problem is at this point congress. our government. i do not believe we can solve our problems. i do not believe that we have the capacity to solve cap and trade. and in the future to solve health care, the entitlement crisis, to reform the tax code. the filibuster has become a central governing reality of this country. it was not that way 40 years ago. i found actually in some historical research that somebody sent to me a memo sent to lyndon johnson about passing medicare with 55 votes. you would never send that memo that way. you don't pass things that way. at the same time, we've become much more polarized, it's harder for the parties to work together. we have a system in which on the
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one hand you need more consensus and on the other we are able to achieve less of it. and if you want to see where that ends up, look over at california where i come from where we saw governmental dysfunction for many years and we assumed when it came down to it they would be able to act and when an emergency happened they couldn't act. all the things we knew were wrong with the government got worse, not better. the minority had both an incentive and the ability to see the majority fail. and you can't work a system like that. the minority can want the majority to fail or make them fail but not both. >> rose: and the president himself, can you argue that they did the best they could under the circumstances and in any quarreling with how they approached this is simply nibbling at the edges? >> i basically agree with that. and i would just say that i think one of the serious problems our system has-- and this is the fault of many of us in the media-- is how much we overemphasize the president. the president does not have the power congress has. he cannot write legislation, he cannot vote on it, and he cannot
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pass it. even if he vetoes it, it can be overturned. we think of politics in terms of the president, we imagine he sets the agenda for congress. when congress isn't doing well, we in the press, we say "the president's strategy has been poor this year." but we should not need the president to approach congress with perfect tactical brilliance in order to get our legislative body legislate. that isn't a sustainable way to run this country. and so i do think you end up in a situation there there where i do think that the obama administration has been quite wise in the way they've handled this. but proudly speaking a big part of the problem is they don't have the power many would like them to have. and if they don't that power and we are waiting for them to exercise it, you do end up in ha bit of a space between perception of how politics works and how to change it and reality. i think the american people tend to think the lever they should pull to make the country better is the presidency's lever and i think that much more the attention needs to focus on congress. >> rose: when i hear you, i think you are saying about all the problems that you are pointing out that we will get health care reform if not before
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christmas, right after. >> yes, i agree with that. we'll pass... i believe at this point that it is likely we will pass this bill. >> rose: thank you very much, ezra. great to have you on this program. >> thank you. kati martin is here. her six books include "hidden power" "the great escape" and the most recent tells the story of her parent's arrest and imprisonment by the hungarian secret police. it's called "enemies of the people: my family's journey to america." i'm pleased to have kati marton back at this table. welcome. characterize writing this book. it is what? >> well, it's a memoir but also frankly a piece of history because i translated the files
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that where in the archives of the secret police on my family. i did it myself. most american writers would need an intermediary to access such files. but i didn't just... the core of the book are these file which is contain many shattering revelations during 20 years of near total surveillance of my parents as well as their brutal treatment in prison. what i discovered along the way was very painful personally, but i think that as we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism, it's important not only to hear the historians' perspective but to actually hear how people lived during a half century. millions of people, it wasn't just my family that lived under this awful regime. this is the human story. this is from the ground up. and it's an intimate memoir but
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at the same time it tries to capture what the tir rohr state was all about and what it did to people's lives. >> rose: you saw the police come and take your father away as a young girl. >> i opened the door to my mother's jailers. that is a... an image that will never leave me. and, in fact, i have some guilt feelings about that because the doorbell rang, i was six years old i was busy cutting up an old dress of my mothers with an older neighbor girl who we later found out had been enlisted to keep me occupied during my mother's smooth... during the smooth execution of my mother's arrest. she was the daughter of a prominent communist party member. i answered the door, there were four guys wearing workers' overalls peering down at me. an they said "get your mother,
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she rang about the meter, we came to check about the meter." and there was a voice, charlie, inside me that said these guys are not who they say they are, they look too big and burly and the overalls look too clean. and there was some instinct that said "cry out." because i knew as a little kid growing up in that kind of state, you know these guys don't like a lot of fuss. i didn't cry out, i was eager to get back to my play date. a half hour later, the apartment is very quiet and i have never been alone in that apartment. i went running from room to room calling out "mama, mama." silence. by now i'm in a state of panic. how could she leave without kissing me? i run down three flights of stairs to the street and i see my older sister sitting on the
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cur within her bicycle next to her crying. and she had seen these same guys holding our mother by the arm shove her in the back of a mercedes and drive off but she couldn't get off of her bike in time to say good-bye. we did not see our mother for nearly a year after that and our father, who had already been taken four months before our mother for two years. and that was the most memorable thing that happened to me as a kid and it ended my childhood. >> rose: you later found out that your parents each had an affair. >> i found out many things that kids shouldn't know about their parents. >> rose: you found out your nanny was an informer. >> everybody, charlie, everybody in our inner circle was informing. from the dentist to the cleaning lady. my father always said "it's the ones who don't tell you that they're informing that you have to worry." and that indeed was our nanny.
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a french woman what was a full-time agent. this is all i know that the files. that she was using my sister and me as her primary sources and this comes as rehabilitated vindication for me because i never liked this woman. she always liked my sister better. and now i know that i was right, my parents were wrong. she did teach me pretty good french, though. >> rose: she was the one who would would come in and open the windows... >> with maximum clatter and say... (speaking french) (laughs) but it turns out everybody was informing. >> rose: your parents had a white studebaker. >> yes, at a time when there were 2,000 private cars in the whole country they were driving around in a white studebaker convertible which they had bought from an american diplomat as a show of defiance, that they were not going to be beaten down
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by a rerey jet stream that had ground the population... >> rose: sflo no secret of their respect and friendship with the americans. >> they worked with the americans. they signed on with the enemy having barely survived under the previous nightmare, the nazis. >> rose: right. >> they then signed on, my father became the associated press correspondent, mother united press. they were the last independent media behind the iron curtain. until... >> rose: your father was filing both reports, both for u.p.i. and a.p. >> another secret reveal bid the files is that my mother-- god knows she was a very witty woman and very beautiful but she was no journalist. so my father was as busy as the french nanny. my father was filing for a.p. and u.p.i. i don't think the wire services were aware of this. now they are. >> rose: did he file in a different voice, so to speak?
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different style? >> yes. he would make changes. i want to reassure the a.p. and the u.p.i. that everybody got their own version of the same story. >> rose: they thought they would live in hungary all their lives. >> they were very proud hungarians. hungarians of jewish background, totally secular and absolutely assimilated for whom the holocaust came as a shock and a life long trauma. because their own countrymen turned on them a murderous way. my grandparents did not survive the holocaust. something that i was not told. >> rose: you didn't know you were jewish. you thought you were catholic. >> well, i was catholic. >> rose: i know you were raised but... >> yes. i discovered when i was working on my first book, a biography in the course of an interview. the this sounds like madeleine albright's story and it's a variation of that, that this that in the course of an
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interview the person i was interviewing said "well, wallenberg was too late for your grandparents." and that was the first ink cling that i had that my grandparents did not die under the hail of bombs as i had been told but that they had been deported to auschwitz. a subject that remained taboo for the rest of my parents' lives. i have never seen a photograph of my grandparents. when i would ask my mother "do i look like my grandmother?" her eyes would well up and that was end of the conversation. so i have... one of the reasons why i needed to go back into those archives was because so much of my history had been walled off by people who had survived two of the greatest traumas in the last century and who wanted something different for us, their children. >> rose: that was andy grove,
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too, wasn't it? >> very similar story i really think children have a right to their history. i wouldn't have done this book while they were alive because it's simply too... you've listed some of the yes tze credits i found in the files. there were many others. they were private people who would have been... who would have hated to have their secrets revealed like that. but in the end, i hope you agree with me, they emerge as remarkable people, frankly, people that even if they weren't my parents i would have enjoyed knowing. far more complicated and interesting than i realized. i say somewhere that children never know their parents because... >> rose: well, you do say that. >> parents want to convey a certain image of themselves. >> rose: but you do because you found out because of the access to the records. >> you know, charlie, at one point i wanted to dedicate the book to the hungarian secret
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police thanks to whose relentless surveillance of my family i now know everything. but then i thought, you know, maybe irony doesn't work well in black and white and so i dedicated it tmama and papa who made the journey for us. >> rose: what's interesting about the book is it's two stories, your story and discovering the information and their story, what the information told you about them. >> yes. >> rose: so they're arrested. >> yes. >> rose: it was... it broke then. they were never the same. >> i don't think you can be the same. in my father in's case, he underwent the most brutal abu ghraib-style interrogation whereby he was forced to stand against... facing a while while obscenities were hurled at him and my father was man of tremendous dignity, a very elegant central european... >> rose: handsome, too. >> gentleman. he was very handsome. and for me as his child, to read what he had to submit to in
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prison was... i began to understand why they didn't want us to know this. they wanted... once we reached safety in america and i know we'll get to how there were surprises even once we got to america, but at any rate, in prison my parents endured this kind of brutality which, of course, hundreds of thousands did, but the... for me, the crucial thing was because so many people had warned me against doing this, you're opening a pandora's box, it's risky business, it will change forever your image of your parents. so i had this big fear that i would discover, like, so many others have, gunther grass, the list is long, that they, too, informed. they that they, too, had done something that would forever change my image of my beloved
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and admired parents. so when i found the piece of paper, the testimony from one of my father's interrogators that said that after weeks of the most brutal interrogation, marton did not incriminate a single other hungarian. that was like my eureka moment and i took that piece of paper and rushed to king coast and had it laminated because i was so afraid that there were thousands of people that i would lose that and that was... that's still tacked to our kitchen bulletin board. >> rose: your father tried to commit suicide in prison. >> yes, twice. yes. yes. that was... yeah. that was a shock, too. he collected into sleeping pills. he figured a hundred would do the job. and fortunately-- you may wonder how he got sleeping pills, they were very lav fish distributing any sedative to their coffee...
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my parents' coffee was already laced with a sedative in the morning which i learned from the files. but at any rate, so the guard would watch you take the bill and he figured out a way to pro tend to pop it in his mouth but actually slip it into the lining of his jacket. but one of his... all his cellmates were agents, informers. he didn't know this. and his life was saved by one of these cellmates who saw three pills drop out of his pocket and report it on him and after that they didn't give him any more sleeping pills and that plan was foiled but he had already collected 60 pills. so he came that close to committing suicide which... and i don't think neigh more desperate than that. he would have missed his
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children's entire lives. but there was something more desperate, and that was that he wrote a letter on cigarette paper urging my mother to... he didn't know my mother had been arrested, although they were the same prison. he only saw her at their trial. so he wrote a letter on cigarette paper urging her to divorce him and to marry any western diplomat or even a security guard at the american embassy, just get married and get out of here and forget about me and have the children forget me. can you imagine urging your wife to do that? of course the guy who was supposed to smuggle this letter out was an agent so the letter went right to the desk of his interrogator. but that... you know, this kind
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of desperation in my extremely the reserved and dignified father was a... was shocking. >> rose: they got out. eventually. >> the revolution. the hundred gehring revolution. >> and then he hid one of his guards. >> yes, because in the first stage of the revolution, there was this lynch mob mentality where they were... where they were looking for the freedom fighters... >> rose: the rage against what they'd been subjected to. the french revolution all over. >> yes. it was very bloody and violent. yes, yes. and so my father hid one of his interrogators in the maid's room... >> rose: because he didn't think it was appropriate to be doing what they were doing. >> mob justice of any form. and he hung the american flag from our front door so that nobody would come and looking
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for the secret policeman. >> rose: so they make their way to america. >> may i interrupt? they went through the hungarian revolution brilliantly, which is our ticket out because they won... >> rose: the war, the european... >> the george poe poe award and the overseas press club. >> rose: the same george pope you "chronicle." so they come to america but the story... the surveillance, the effort to... >> recruit. or turn. and now this was the final shock is that it wasn't that only the hungarians who were pursuing them. because by now my father had a by line, they was a.p. chief's diplomatic correspondent and the hungarians say to themselves "hmm, this guy could do some interesting work for us as a double agent." so they start following my parents again. you know, the watchers take up their watching.
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and the surveillance is almost as total in suburban washington where we had settled as it was in budapest. but now we have j. edgar hoover and his guys also following my parents and also circling around them. so you've got two sets of spooks and agents. all this in boring bethesda, maryland, where i was trying to become an all-american girl and thinking, thinking... the f.b.i. thinking that... or let's say hoover thinking that anybody who is just out of a communist prison is suspicious. obviously a deal was done. >> rose: the cold war was under way. >> yeah. how come he got out? how come... this guy needs watching. so my poor parents it was like nobody... they were suspicious
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characters to both sides in the cold war because they were fiercely independent and they didn't cave to either side. they were not the greatest role models for parenting because of the risks that they took, but they certainly were great role models for... in terms of character and profession. >> rose: tell me how this has changed you. >> well i think it's given me a much more solid feeling about who i am. i think that if you don't know your own history, however painful that is, you don't really understand who you are, why you are the way you are. you know, why did i... i never wanted to be anything but a journalist and a truth teller. i obviously uh-uh have good strong genetic reasons for that.
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they were very defiant people. >> rose: so you know who you are because you know who your parents are? >> well, and my grandparents and i think it's really important. but i think... this book isn't just about me, i think it's about a time and a place that should not come again. >> rose: enemies of the people. my family's journey to america. >> rose: steven roberts is here, he's worked as a journalist for more than 40 years. he and his wife cokie write a nationally syndicated newspaper column. his new book tells the story of 13 families and their journeys as immigrants to the united states. it is called "from every end of this earth." i am pleased to have steve roberts back at this table. welcome. >> my pleasure, charlie. >> rose: great to have you here. "from every end of this earth"
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comes from barack obama's speech. what was the line? >> well, he said "america's renewed by the doers, the risk takers, the makers of things sand come from every end of this earth." and he said? the same speech "our patchwork nation is a strength, not a weakness." you thumb of the theme of the book in one sentence, that's it. i was doing radio commentary it is morning of the inauguration and i heard that line and i called my editor and said "we have a title for the book." because he understands this basic idea. and we're at a time where there's a lot of anti-immigrant feeling. this happens periodically in this country. there are spasms of xenophobia, we're going through one now. and obama's personal story, but also his experience tells him that america is enriched. and when you think about obama's story and you think about so many other immigrant stories, it's the most tenacious, the most resilient, the most ambitious who can imagine a life outside their country.
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and have the strength and courage to make it here. so it's a self-selected process. someone called it the american miracle and i agree with it. the dull ones? they're back in kenya. they're back in... you know, in poland where my people are from. only the most driven... >> rose: most adventurous and the most driven and the survivalist. >> rose: >> and think of that gene pool, you know? (laughs) >> rose: so how did you choose the families you were going to follow? >> well, some of them were actually students of mine. i teach a writing course at george washington university and i operate on the principal of ruthlessly exploiting my students in every opportunity. in fact, the book is dedicated to my students. and i realized that my previous book, you were nice enough to interview me on ate few years ago, was my a memoir of my own family's immigrating to america, my settling in new jersey. >> rose: "my father's houses." >> "my father's houses." and i realized as these students were writing about their own families that these stories were
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as vibrant and vital today as they were 100 years ago when my grandfather made it to these shores. so that was part of the inspiration. and i used several students in the book. and then other students helped scout for me. one was a high school teacher in philadelphia and sent me a family from sierra leone. another was a wait he is from a salvadoran restaurant and sent me a family. because they all new of my interest in the subject. but i also chose the families to try to illustrate the various dimensions of immigration today. the family in sierra leone were political refugees. they fled the rebels in their home country. he was almost caught in an ambush, he ducked, the bullet went through his finger and killed a man behind him. his father and brother were decapitate bid rebels. he was a political refugee. acease banner ji got on a plane and went to chemistry school at case western. he reflects the very interesting
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dimension of modern immigration, which is people who really lives in two countries. he owns two plastics factories. one in ohio, one in tamil, india. so i wanted various families to reflect different dimensions of the modern story. >> rose: what's the common denominator other than they came here seeking something? >> good question. the common denominator is of the successful ones-- and not everybody's successful-- common denominator is they didn't believe the american myth that the streets are paved with gold. it's never been paved with gold. opportunity, yes, gold, no. >> rose: they didn't believe it. that's the common denominator. >> they didn't believe it. they came to work hard. they didn't think it would be easy. there were one or two people in the book who thought it would be easy, they didn't make it. the other thing is was expressed by a woman from vietnam and she described herself and her husband as the sacrifice generation.
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and what she meant by that was... and this has been true for every immigrant in the history of the world-- you always leave something of yourself behind. even if you're a political refugee, even if you can't wait to get out of there you leave the grace of your ancestors behind. the food never taste it is same anywhere else. the air never smell it is same anywhere else. but they come because of their children and they come in a way where they leave something of themselvess behind and they're never fully american. that transitional generation is always caught between two worlds. but as i say, they do it for one reason-- and this is common to all of them-- that word is children. that's why they do it. >> rose: to give their children a better life than they had, a better opportunity. >> knowing they will never be fully american but their kids will. >> rose: has whoo what has obama said in his book and otherwise about how it shaped him? >> he is very... it's very interesting. i think it's given him a broader understanding of other cultures.
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we saw in the his outreach to the muslim world where he has tried very hard to express sympathy and identity, particularly with young muslims around the world, his town hall meeting in istanbul, his speech in cairo. i think that it has also given him a real appreciation because his own father was an immigrant from kenya and what drew his father to america was education. >> rose: right. >> and he has a gut understanding of the virtues, the immigrant virtues. he has a gut understanding of the contributions people make. a woman raised her hand in the back of a room the other night. she says "i'm a high school teacher. how can we get the american students in my classroom to work as hard as the immigrant kids in my classroom?" (laughs) i think barack obama understands that point in his gut. >> rose: his is interesting, too because his father is one of those who went back.
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his father went to harvard and went back to kenya. >> and some of that is happening now. >> rose: exactly. >> particularly with the asian immigrants because of the economic opportunities back home china and india in particular. i have a man in this book, tom chan, his parents fled communism in china in terror in the mid-'40s, got to hong kong, never looked back, hated the communist, hated china. tom comes to college in california, becomes an accountant, when business opens up with mainland china, a friend of a friend of a friend puts him in touch with people who want to sell fireworks in america. today tom chan spends two weeks a month back in china running a business that imports fireworks to the united states in one generation his family went from threeing dwichl going back to china where he spends half of his time doing business. >> rose: that's a great story. in your heart you say "i'm a roe goffski but not a roberts." >> i grew up in a very immigrant
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family. my family name in russia and poland was rogovski. that got dropped at ellis island. the name on my birth certificate is rogo. that's who i am. and that's why i've had a life long interest in immigration. roberts is a welsh name. my dad changed the family name when i was two. the welsh are lovely people, but they ain't my people, charlie. >> rose: (laughs) >> and it's given me a life long interest in immigration and a life long sympathy for the struggles that immigrants go through. and so when i talk to these families, i can almost hear my grandfather's voice in my head and remember the stories of adjustment and i had a sympathy particularly for a lot of cultural confusions that people go through because this doesn't happen in a straight line. there was one... there were three muslim sisters from california, coming from burma and one of them said to me-- and they grew up in southern
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california-- and one of them said to me "i just had to fill out an application for graduate school for social work and i had to define myself." i said "what did you say?" she said "well, i'm an immigrant. i'm a muslim. i'm a strong woman of color and i'm my mother's daughter." then she pauses and says "and i'm a california chick." >> rose: (laughs) >> (laughs) >> rose: when you looked at what's happened in terms of immigration policy, what is the imperative that you see for this country to do? >> i think there are two things. one about illegals, one about legals. most of the people in this book are legal. and for the legals, the single most important thing we need to do right away is expand the visas for the best educated people. >> rose: sure. >> we have a program in this country called h. 1b visas capped at 65,000 a year.
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bill gates goes to congress every year and begs to change it. why? bill gates says 30% of microsoft's patents come from foreign born... >> rose: he's also saying they have to go to places like canada to get people to come to work for microsoft to find the people they want. >> ideas have no boundaries. and if we don't attract and keep the best minds, someone in many... an economist i quote in my book says if we don't do this the next silicon valley will be in shanghai or mumbai, not california. >> rose: i don't understand why that's such a hard sell in congress. >> well, it's an incredibly hard sell. in the last stimulus bill, charlie, they nut a gras gra tu us toly nasty provision that says any company that gets stimulus money can't hire anyone under an h-1b visa. they they're creating jobs for americans. it's wrong. >> rose: because they're adding to... >> ingenuity, entrepreneurship.
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three americans got the nobel prize for fizz sick this is year one born in china, one born in canada. what did they create? the the two men who got these prizes. one did the science that created digital photography. the other did the science that created fiber optics. how many americans are working in jobs today because those two scientists did their work here and not in germany, not canada, not anywhere else. >> rose: in fact, arpl conversation i did in... with moammar qaddafi and i said to him "why do you hate america?" and he said "oh, no, no, no, i don't hate america. i love america." i said "why do you love america?" he said "because everybody goes to america. america is made of all of us." that was his answer. surprising, huh? >> yeah, it is surprising. but also accurate. >> rose: true. >> it is accurate. and it's... you know, when i look at my classrooms, charlie, i see these young people from india and from bangladesh and from egypt and brazil and argentina. they are enriching us every day!
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and there's also a national interest at stake. there's a hard... it's not just the scientists that we need. i have a young woman in one of my classs who is a product of an afghani egyptian marriage. she's not only very appealing but also very smart, she speaks arabic and she speaks pash tune, the tribal language of after gafs. pashto. think about how essential she is to the national interest to have a young woman like that. they should be sending a limousine for this woman. >> rose: this book is called "from every end of this earth: 13 families and the new lives they made the america." steve roberts. thank you. >> my pleasure, charlie. nice to be with you. >> rose: thank you for joining us. see you next time.
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